Sooner or later it'll happen. If you travel to Lake Garda, sooner or later someone will suggest you visit the historic city of Sirmione. And, well, we couldn't agree more.
First of all, yes, Sirmione is that town. As in the town they visited in Call Me By Your Name where there are Roman ruins set along impossibly clear turquoise waters. And, yes, we're well aware that there are a lot of stunning historic villages to visit in Italy. But few have the combos of looks, history, geography, and charm of Sirmione.
You should know that Sirmione is not unknown. While we always want to introduce you places that are a deeper cut on a region sometimes the best-known places are deserving their recognition as is the case with Sirmione. Naysayers will tell you there are touristy crowds in midsummer (and they're right), but we don't think that's a reason to skip Sirmione. Instead, it just requires you to plan your trip to Sirmione well! First things first, here's some background on Sirmione.
Sirmione isn't merely a lakeside town on Lake Garda but a town that juts into the lake on a super narrow, long peninsula. Over the centuries, Sirmione has drawn everyone from poets to nobles including the likes of the poet Catullus and diva Maria Callas and these days visitors flock to what is, in our opinion, Lake Garda's prettiest village.
Why Go To Sirmione
One of the things that surprised us most about Sirmione? For a town so small, there's a lot to do in Sirmione! Yes, you could easily day trip to Sirmione and simply walk the town, stroll the lakeside, and grab a bite. But, if we had the means, we'd spend a long weekend in Sirmione holed up at the luxury hotels pampering ourselves with spa services.
Our advice for a first time visit to Sirmione would be as follows: do an extended day trip. Your Sirmione itinerary could be to arrive early in the morning and visit the historic sites then escape the daytime crowds with a midday spa service and wrap up the day with an aperitivo on the square!
Here's our full list of what to do in Sirmione:
What To Do In Sirmione
If you're into the beach and wellness, you could spend all day in Sirminoe walking the lakeside trails and dipping in the thermal baths. Or, if history and culture is a must for you, you can visit the castle, the Roman ruins, or the house where Maria Callas used to spend time. We say do a mix of it all with the following being our top picks:
For Gorgeous Views: Castello Scaligero
The Scaligero Castle is a 13th-century fortress and castle that stands at attention on the southern tip of the historic city center of Sirmione. The castle is known for being one of the best conserved castles in Italy but we love it because it's surrounded by a tuquoise moat and you can climb the steep steps for a not-to-be-missed view of Lake Garda.
For Roman Ruins: Villa Romana “Grotte di Catullo”
Speaking of "Call Me By Your Name" this is where they filmed the archaelogical dig scenes. Situated at the end of the oh-so skinny Sirmione peninsula are these ruins known as "Grotte di Catullo." The villa dates back to thee 1st century B.C. and is one of the best-known Roman ruin sites in Northern Italy.
For Relaxation: Thermal Baths "Terme di Sirmione"
One of the reasons people have hung out in Sirmione since Roman times? The thermal baths! There are actually two main sets of thermal baths in Sirmione -- the Terme di Catullo in the town and the Terme di Virgilio down the road in Colombare. So, if you have time, definitely spend some time at the thermal baths.
Where To Eat In Sirmione
For High End Food: La Rucola 2.0
This Michelin-starred spot is our favorite option in Sirmione. Though it is definitely the pricier option in Sirmione, it's worth it for the impeccable service and some of the more creative food – Frico Parmigiano popsicles, Szechuan Pink Peppercorn Carbonara Pasta, and Almond Milk and Uni Pasta, to name a few – on Lake Garda.
For Something Classic: Tavernetta Maria Callas
If La Rucola 2.0 is pushing the envelope on creative food in Sirmione, Tavernetta Maria Callas is a classic as it comes. The service, food, and atmosphere are all on point with a good dose of small town hospitality.
For Aperitivo: Caffe Grand Italia
Hang around Salt & Wind long enough and you probably start to notice that we love ourselves a good aperitivo cocktail. When you're in Sirmione, the place to do just that is Caffe Grand Italia on the quaint Piazza Carducci. Full disclosure: we go here more for the people watching and the piazza-side tables than for the drinks or food but it's a fun place to relax for a second.
Where To Stay In Sirmione
For Super Classic: Villa Cortine Palace Hotel
Sometimes you gotta go big and grand and over-the-top, we get it. In the case of Sirmione's historic city center, that's when you book a room at the 5-star luxury property, the Villa Cortine Palace Hotel. As the name suggests, this property was first a villa and then converted into a hotel in the 1950s. Its location at the end of the Sirmione peninsula means it has gorgeous vistas of Lake Garda and that it provides direct access to the famous Sirmione thermal waters. We're fans of it not only for the service and old-world charm but because the grounds of the sprawling 12-acre property are jaw-dropping.
Chic and Central: Hotel Eden Sirmione
This 4-star hotel is pretty much the easiest hotel to get to in the historic center of Sirmione because it's just a few strides inside the walled city center. But that alone is not a reason to stay here! It's lake front terrace, gorgeus views, easy beach access, and central location, however, very much are!
For Modern Vibes: Aqva Boutique Hotel Sirmione
If small, chic, and boutique is your deal, then you'll want to check out this modern 18-room hotel. It's location just outside the historic city center of Sirmione means the Aqva Boutique Hotel is quieter than the other hotels here. Add to it that they have a cute library, a private dock, a gorgeous pool, and free bikes for riding around, and, well, we're fans!
How To Get To Sirmione
The nearest train stations to Sirmione are abotu 7 miles away at either Peschiera or Desenzano. From either train station, you can hop a local bus or a taxi ride are necessary to get to the historic center of Sirmione.
If you're staying on Lake Garda, the local ferry is likely the easiest way to get to Sirmione -- especially if you only plan on staying for a few hours.
If you're arriving by car from the west or east (ie Milan or Verona or Venice) you'll want to hop on the A4/E70 highway and then follow the signs for Sirmione centro storico (as in not the modern town of Sirmione). If you're staying on Lake Garda and driving over, it's easy to get to though it can take a while depending on traffic and weather. There is a ton of parking just outside the hisotric city center so try to drive as close as you can to the historic city center entrance before parking.
Top Tip For Visiting Sirmione
Look, the historic core of Sirmione can get very busy during high season as tons of visitors pour in for day visits. That's not to say that this historic town on Lake Garda isn't worth a visit but, like so many uber popular spots these days, it can be frustrating to visit in high season.
If you want to visit Sirmione during high season, we recommend going very early or late in the day as most visitors seem to visit between about 10AM and 5PM. Better yet if you can choose when you're going to Sirmione, try to visit in the shoulder season (ie late Spring and early Fall like we do on our Salt & Wind Italy trips) because it'll be loads quieter.
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Photos by Salt & Wind and Dreamwood